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On a Monday morning in Bergen, Norway my wife and her parents went off to visit a museum. I went to a junk shop. On the window in fancy letters were the words “Brukt ~ Antikk,” which I believe translate as “Used ~ Antique.” Make no mistake. It was junk, lots and lots of junk. An amazing amount of wonderful junk.

Brukt ~ AntikkWhy I wanted to visit the junk shop is somewhat of a mystery. I had little intention of buying anything, though I carried cash just in case I found a must have item. The shop was wonderfully chaotic. It was difficult to manoeuvre given there was little floor space to walk, though narrow pathways through the junk could be found. Junk was on the floor, on the walls, hanging from the ceiling. There were two smaller rooms that you simply could not walk into they were so stuffed with junk. I had an utterly delightful time, though in the end I did not buy anything.

When I returned to London I started thinking about junk. Why? Because some would say my study is filled with junk. I just did a quick count. I have 153 items of junk in my study that I have brought back from other parts of the world. I have junk from India, Myanmar, Taiwan, Thailand, China, Japan, Greece, Turkey, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Angola, Madagascar, Australia, Jamaica, Guyana, Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Ukraine, Norway, the United States in my study (and I suspect there is more junk from other countries but it is taking too long to find it all). Downstairs there is more international junk in the living room. My wife is very tolerant.

When I was diagnosed with cancer I sat in my big brown chair in my study and rather dramatically, though not unreasonably, contemplated my up-coming death. As I looked around the study I decided to make a list of which particularly treasure should be given to which particular friend upon my demise. I assigned the large graffiti coloured Berlin Wall fragments to Kevin and the framed original 1994 South African election ballot and the likewise framed election day front page of the Sowetan to Philip. A good start, but then I realised it was very doubtful anyone else would want any of this junk. When I told my wife of my plan, she confirmed my suspicion with a look that communicated both sadness that I was contemplating my immanent  parting and embarrassment that I had ever thought anyone would want my junk. So, I guess it is more than possible that all my junk will end up in a junk shop or a dump (though hopefully not any time soon given treatment went well). I would prefer a junk shop so that one day in the future a stranger might be browsing and decide one of my pieces of junk was just what he or she wanted.

Brukt ~ AntikkHere’s what dictionaries say about junk:


  • Discarded material, such as glass, rags, paper, or metal, some of which may be reused in some form.
  • Articles that are worn-out or fit to be discarded.
  • Cheap or shoddy material.
  • Something meaningless, fatuous, or unbelievable.

  • Old or discarded articles that are considered useless or of little value.

The says much the same but adds:

  • Worthless writing, talk, or ideas: I can’t write this kind of junk
  • A person’s belongings: I only have an hour to get all my junk together and interestingly
  • US vulgar slang a man’s genitals.
  • Heroin:  you do anything for junk—cheat, lie, steal
  • The lump of oily fibrous tissue in a sperm whale’s head, containing spermaceti.

And from the

  • Seemingly useless rubbish which sits around for months and is inevitably disposed of the day before it is needed.

And, course

  • A male’s genitals again.

We might add:

  • Things that people have lost.

The word junk apparently comes from the Middle English jonk, which meant an old cable or rope. People who love words speculate:

Brukt ~ AntikkFirst recorded in 1353, the word meant "an old cable or rope." On a sailing ship it made little sense to throw away useful material since considerable time might pass before one could get new supplies. Old cable was used in a variety of ways, for example, to make fenders, that is, material hung over the side of the ship to protect it from scraping other ships or wharves. Junk came to refer to this old cable as well. The big leap in meaning taken by the word seems to have occurred when junk was applied to discarded but useful material in general. This extension may also have taken place in a nautical context, for the earliest, more generalized use of junk is found in the compound junk shop, referring to a store where old materials from ships were sold. Junk has gone on to mean useless waste as well. (See

Putting aside the definitions about writing, sperm whales, men’s genitals and heroin, junk shops should be applauded. Remember junk, things that have become worn-out, shoddy, discarded, meaningless, fatuous, or unbelievable, used to be someone’s possession, tool, joy, desire, memory. Junk shops collect all this lost stuff and at least give it all the possibility of rehabilitation, thus becoming someone else’s tool, joy, desire, memory. Lost junk becomes found.

The 153 pieces of junk crammed into my study are all material items that create or enable ephemeral memories. I would not be the same person without all my junk. My experiences and soul infect these material items with remembrance and identity. Admittedly, if someone many years down the road buys some of my junk in a junk shop, he or she will not also inherit the essence of me, but they will be purchasing possibilities. Junk attracts memories. Anybody’s memories. Junk is completely inclusive in this regard.

There is, of course, Paul McCartney’s song Junk. A Wikipedia entry (referring to The Beatles Bible) suggests the song wonders why “we leave things that were a part of our lives and replace them with others, because at the same time we leave memories objects, in a metaphysical way.”

Perhaps calling up the metaphysical is a stretch, but perhaps not. In any event, I’ll end with the lyrics of Junk:

Motor cars, handle bars
Bicycles for two
Broken hearted jubilee

Parachutes, army boots
Sleeping bags for two
Sentimental jamboree

Buy! Buy!
Says the sign in the shop window
Why? Why?
Says the junk in the yard

Da, da, ya, da, da, da
Da, da, da
Da, da, ya, da, da
Da, da, da, da, da, da, da

Candle sticks, building bricks
Something old and new
Memories for you and me

Buy! Buy!
Says the sign in the shop window
Why? Why?
Says the junk in the yard


Copyright © 2013 Dale Rominger

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